Twitter is a funny beast you love, hate, or use begrudgingly. When my gluten-free blogger friends talked me into finally joining four years ago I immediately fell in love with the ease of conversing with others. It’s no surprise I’ve made more friends in seeking out people who engage rather than just market and retweet. This summer I had the fortune to fall into a group of friends who make me laugh on a daily basis.
Among those friends is author, Adam Dreece. He’s Groot to my Rocket and Twitter would be a sadder social media site without him. Adam wrote Along Came A Wolf and Breadcrumb Trail, books one and two of The Yellow Hoods series. He’s currently working on book three. I finally read them a couple of weeks ago. Okay, tore through them is a better description. I couldn’t put them down. He weaves these tales together so well and populates them with characters that drive the plot.
How did you conceive the idea for The Yellow Hoods series and how did you decide to blend original classic fairy tales with nursery rhymes?
Origin of The Yellow Hoods series
When I sat down on January 4th, 2014 at the kitchen counter to start writing what would become the first book in The Yellow Hoods series, Along Came a Wolf, I thought I was just writing a short story for my daughter because she’d been asking me to. I’d told her a silly tale of “The Hoods” a couple of times at bedtime, and she’d asked for me to write it down. I knew I didn’t want to write the same tale that I’d told her, I wanted to do something new, and so I started writing.
I had been trying to get going on the first book of another series, which was a dystopian Steampunk series. The first book was to be called Rise of the Muffin Men. I had planned to lace it with classic tales and nursery rhymes, as The Yellow Hoods is, and to be layered for not just the young adult reader but for the mature reader, as The Yellow Hoods is. The problem was that I’d gotten myself super organized and in doing so, had over planned and felt almost paralyzed. I’d had three writing sessions that had produced very little of note.
This was the first fiction I’d written in years, having spent three years writing my memoir. Stuck on the Rise of the Muffin Men, I decided to clear my mind, stretch my fiction legs, and give this story for my daughter some attention and then get back to it.
As the story poured on to the page, I came to realize that there were many things that I loved about it. As the word count passed 5,000, and then 10,000, I realized that there was something important here. When I stepped back and thought about where the story was going, I decided that I really liked it and tried to figure out could The Yellow Hoods and that dystopian Steampunk series, fit together, and it did. Since then, I’ve had the vision that the dystopian Steampunk series would be about ten years after the end of The Yellow Hoods. Mind you, as any good writer knows, where you think you are going to end up isn’t necessarily where you will end up.
The actual hoods
The idea for the team to be ‘yellow hoods’ was largely driven by that silly tale I told my daughter, wherein all of the characters wore different coloured cloaks. There was little red riding hood with her red cloak, Cinderella with her blue cloak, someone else with a green one. All of them were involved in fixing problems with mixed up fairy tales.
I liked the idea of keeping that aspect, and of effectively creating a ‘super hero team’ like the Avengers or Justice League, but with a uniform (like some versions of the X-men). Having the cloaks would also allow me to have pockets to keep things, to offer protection that was “super human” to some degree, and to disguise which character someone was actually facing.
Lacing with Fairy-tale
I love hiding meaning in my stories, I always have. Having that onion-skin effect in a great story allows readers to read it, then talk about it with friends, realize that there was something that they missed, read it again, and then enjoy the story again (and possibly a third time) on completely different levels.
It’s not so much ‘hiding it’, but it’s making subtle reference, nudging the reader, or taking advantage of a reader’s nature assumptions, not saying anything, and then revealing that their assumptions were just that, assumptions.
I also love the idea that fairy tales and rhymes are natural ways for humans to remember things. What if our tales were a way to remember something real, something that happened somewhere else a long time ago. It would add meaning, depth and provide me a mechanism to infer things to older readers that I may not be comfortable calling out explicitly for younger adult.
Why yellow instead or orange, green, blue, or purple? And why red for the others?
The colours are significant. The yellow hoods are about hope, youthful energy and ideals. It is also about the rising of the sun, how it clears out the darkness, how it warms our skin and soul.
The red hoods are about how that hope, youthful energy and ideals can be stolen, and twisted. It can be broken and remade. The red is also the colour we often see as the sun goes down, before the darkness spreads.
You built a fantastical world which appeals to readers of all ages. What process went into your world building and steampunk inventions?
Rather than having a world where all of the Steampunk technology was everywhere, making it almost seem like magic or like a ‘insert gear here’ sci-fi world, I wanted a world that was going to change along with the reader’s progression through the series. This would make it more accessible and I believe, give a bit of a realistic feel, as technological change is never universal and smooth.
In terms of the inventions, I asked myself tons of questions about how would they work? How would they fail/stop working? How long could they be used for? Why was it made instead of something else? I also asked myself manufacturing questions in terms of possible materials and tooling, as well as how long would it potentially take to make the thing. Now understand that I didn’t do months of research, but I did walk around with these questions in mind for days, if not weeks, playing with the items, imagining them in use, sometimes standing and imaging that I have the thing and how it would feel and how would it affect my thinking.
Young Adult stories usually centers around a group of same-age teens with adults as supporting roles and/or the antagonist. This is not true of Along Came A Wolf and Breadcrumb Trail. You gave us young characters that cross the lines between children’s age and young adult, and a wide array of adult characters that feature in the story rather than appear in times of need. Was this a conscious effort to create characters of all ages equally integral to the plot?
The “arrogant, maverick, I know better” teen stereotype that seems to have been dominant “forever” in North American movies and stories bothers me deeply. It harms family values and social values, and adds to that dangerous arrogance we’ve all experience having been through those years. I wanted to offer something different, something that was still compelling to young adult readers without having to feed them bad role models.
I also wanted to have older generation characters playing key roles and to have important relationships with the younger characters. I started with Tee’s relationship with her grandfather, Nikolas. I wanted that to represent that wondrous, magical relationship that some people have at a young age with a grandparent. Next was the Cochon brothers, their relationship to each other (which I only revealed a bit of in the books so far) and their relationship to Nikolas and Isabella Klaus. Bit by bit, I wove the tapestry of relationships together until I felt had the right feel.
You created archetypal characters that are not stereotypical and strong female characters that do not end up in the useless trope column. How hard was this to do for the series?
It came very naturally to me. Over the years, as I read stories to my daughter, it bothered me how flat or how vain the female characters were. Pretty much all of the books drove home the messages of wearing the right thing, having the right friends, meeting the right boy. It was absurd and disturbing. I couldn’t find books with grounded, female heroes that thought, learned and felt.
My first best friend was a girl. Most of my close friends throughout high school and afterwards were women. Today, on Twitter, the vast majority of the people I interact with are women. I’ve had probably as many women as bosses, as I have had men. Too many times I’ve been “one of the girls” and been allowed to be with women when they talk frankly. All of it, all of those experiences, goes into my characters.
My takeaway from the books is trying to assign gender roles is frowned upon in Freland but may be acceptable in other countries mentioned in the series. How much did the fact that you have a daughter influence this?
Actually what the characters are going to discover is that their world of Minette and Mineau is different than the world around them. While Freland is progressive relative to its neighbours, the twin-towns of the mountain are special.
The idea of being explicit that women can do everything was a theme I wanted in there for young women to read. I didn’t need it in the books for my daughter, she has a very healthy perspective of what women are capable of, but I thought of everyone else’s daughter that’s out there. Those daughters might be getting bombarded by a million bad books and movies and video games that are telling them that they can’t be master inventors or soldiers, or if they consider it that they will be out on their own.
The reaction of Egelina-Marie’s mother to her daughter becoming a town guard was important to me. I wanted to show that sometimes those that were against you, will come around and support you, because what they said in trying to stop you was really about protecting you from harm and not about saying you weren’t capable.
How much planning went into the Easter Eggs in the series? Can you give us any hints for ones we might find in All The Kings Men?
There’s really only 1 Easter Egg that I can think of, though if someone called something else out I’d probably realize I had put more, came to me as I started to write book 2. For anyone that follows me on Twitter, it shouldn’t be too surprising ultimately what it is. It’s subtle, but it’s woven in there on purpose. At this time I don’t have any other planned.
Debi’s note: After the interview took place, Adam started work on a map with Easter Eggs in it. He said he “snapped like a Calgarian tree w/snow on it” and that my question got him thinking.
Both of us are open about the things beyond our control that get in the way with our writing. For me, it’s multiple chronic illnesses. For you, it’s asthma that developed late in life, chronic pain and dyslexia. I know how difficult it is to read and write when brain fog has settled in my head. What challenges do you face with dyslexia when you are writing and how do you handle them?
It’s quite challenging at times. When the abdominal chronic pain level is high, it erodes my sleep and makes everything take more energy. Even doing nothing costs energy, and naps provide little recharge. This erodes my mood and makes it hard to focus on writing sometimes. The upside to this is that I take the stabbing pain as motivation to keep going, to not stop, almost like a twisted curse that forces you to do what you wouldn’t have otherwise.
The dyslexia is the one that probably affects me the least, but I’ve had the longest to learn to work with it. Sometimes I write the wrong words, but reading it and having a good editor helps that. Revising my work is a slow process because of this, but I make up for that with working harder and longer hours. The one area that it’s really affecting me lately is in my ability to read the works of the authors I’ve become friends with. While some of them are able to read my works in a day, I’m looking at a month or more, depending on how long the book is. The upside of dyslexia, the different way of thinking, is undoubtedly related to how I view the world and the way I write, so I wouldn’t trade it.
Recently, I blogged about my severe asthma, and what that feels like. Sometimes it strikes while I’m sleeping, and that erodes my quality of sleep. Again that erodes my mood which affects my family, and my ability to focus. Sometimes when the weather is starting to change, I can feel my energy level drop and it feels like my lungs are made of concrete, barely moving on their own. The only upside that I can think of with my asthma is that it forces me to take it easy far more regularly than I would otherwise. I am more strategic in how I use my energy, in what I take on and what I pass on, and when I do something like paint the outside of my house.
All together they serve as Carpe Diem devices, each forcing me to make the decision again and again about what I want in life, and each time I make the same decision, my resolve gets that much deeper.
Debi’s note: Adam’s strategic use of his energy is what is commonly referred to as the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. It started as a way for her to explain to a friend what it was like living with lupus and it applies to other chronic illnesses as well.
How did/do you balance writing with a full-time job and being a parent?
I get asked this question a lot, and have even blogged about it under the title Ruthless – Writing and a full time job. It is hard, and involves late nights and ruthless prioritization. That’s all stuff that I’ve said before, and in the blog posts.
The schedule I currently have myself on is aggressive, pushing out two to three books a year (I’ll have the 3rd one ready for editing by the end of this calendar year) and having my other responsibilities. One of the things it has forced me to do is communicate my needs and intents to my wife better. For the longest time, I wasn’t good at communicating my needs. I always put other people’s wants and desires before my own, and that had a negative effect on me. I feel that I’m happier this way, and my wife is very supportive.
There’s an amount of stress that comes with the territory, and I’m doing my best to manage that. I have a vision for where I want to be in 5 years, and won’t let it go.
If you could have only one of your steampunk inventions in real life, which would you choose and why?
Ask me at the end of the series, I’ll have invented more by then. Right now, I’d have to say that the Book 2 variant of the sail-cart is very compelling.
What would your ultimate costume for Halloween or a Con be?
I’ve been building my Cosplay outfit to where at events, and will be debuting it at SaskExpo in mid-September. The only pieces I’m missing at this point are some Steampunk weaponry, maybe a pocket-watch and gold chain variant, but otherwise, I think I’ve got it. I think most of the costume is in how you present it, what’s the character you have in your mind and are telepathically broadcasting out to everyone. When they look at me, do they see me, or do they see Abeland Pieman?
About the author: Adam Dreece wrote short stories for friends and family, for 25 years. After becoming seriously ill, he decided to make some changes, including never missing a night of reading stories to his kids again because of work, and going after his dream of being an author.
He spent three years writing a memoir about his life up to and through that event. With that out of the way, he felt free and able to start writing fiction again. With a nudge from his daughter, he wrote Along Came a Wolf and created The Yellow Hoods series.
He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his awesome wife and amazing kids.
Adam spends time with his kids, his wife and helping others with their writing online. He’s also a public speaker and mentor.
He lives in Alberta, Canada, home of Wolverine.
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